Benign Violation – Key to Connecting With Your Audience

Many people I work with are often afraid of “going too far.” That’s good; we don’t want to scare people off — from making a policy change, a donation, a personal action or whatever it is that could give us the change we need.

But there’s a difference between the fear of scaring people off and the fear of shaking things up a bit. The fear of the former at the expense of the latter can be your undoing.

Indeed, an unwillingness to shake things up — to catch your audience’s attention and give them something different to think about — will scare them off just as much as if you had offended them. Making straight, dull, unoriginal content that doesn’t engage is a guarantee of a sub-one-thousand click payoff. If you’re lucky enough to already have a captive audience — you’ve handcuffed them to their chairs — then I guarantee you a room of echoing snores by the time you’re done.

Benign Violation is a principle that drives enjoyment and sharing of content. Essentially, if your piece violates the viewer’s norm — takes them out of his/her world and questions it for a moment — that person’s brain perks up, takes notice, and pays attention. If your message is compelling, that same listener will be so grateful for the experience s/he will want others to feel the same sensation, by sharing your message and video.

I don’t know why benign violation works. Humor, storytelling… it’s all elusive neuroscience that, while we’ll never completely understand it, we must use to our advantage.

Above is a piece that follows this principle. The narrarotr casually mentions atrocious industrial secrets in a format known for guilt-free, happy hype. It glorifies gluttony, and ironically encourages the behavior. Violating? Yes, it’s not what we’re used to hearing in an infomercial, and covers topics we don’t like to discuss, including energy resource depletion. Offensive? Eh. Almost, to the point of being edgy, but not really.

Consider the alternative: Should you make a video with pictures of sad children and smoke stacks with a voiceover saying, “Don’t buy useless novelties. They are bad for the environment, and waste energy,”? If you’re leaning yes, re-read this article, or give me a call so I can shake you, very hard.

What do you wish you could say, but are afraid to? If it’d violate your comfort zone, but get some attention and wouldn’t burn bridges, I’d highly consider saying it, in hopefully a creative way. Any other approach may go unnoticed.

Loosen up a bit, because your audience is not as lame and humorless as you assume. Give ‘em some credit and have some fun!

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